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Benetton ad banned by European poster firms

Published on .

BRUSSELS -- A black stallion mounts a white mare in the latest advertisement by clothing manufacturer Benetton, but only a few Europeans will ever see the poster. Two of the biggest billboard contractors in Europe have imposed a blanket ban on the ad from all their sites around the Union, arguing that it tarnishes the image of outdoor advertising.

French group Avenir and British contractor Mills & Allen have turned down the ad on moral grounds. "We decided at group level not to work with it," says Patrick Sion, sales director at Belgian poster contractor Belgaposter, part of the French group.

The posters will appear in Denmark, Norway and on a few sites in Belgium next Tuesday. They will then follow on in most other east and west European countries for 28 days starting in early September. Benetton ads are created in-house by Olivireo Toscani.

Sion claims his company's responsibility "as good citizens" has led to its decision. "Local schools, city councils, public transport, they're our business partners too. We have to be careful with the visuals and messages we carry," he says.

But not everyone agrees. "It's not shocking," argues Michel Van Rosson, head of Performance, Benetton's poster agent in Belgium. "It's something you see everyday." Benetton's printer, Belgian-based Hecht, refused to comment on the campaign, but confirmed it is planning a pan-European assault with the ad. Only the small Belgian contractors have agreed to run the ad on their poster sites, but those contacted would not comment.

Benetton has conceded defeat in the UK already and is preparing a substitute image to appear during September on billboards and in magazines that refuse the two horses picture. Zoe Brown, a spokeswoman for Benetton's British office, confirms this ad has provoked more initial outcry than other Benetton ads, such as the picture of a dying AIDS patient, a human heart, and a black woman breastfeeding a white baby.

Benetton, an Italian family business, has courted controversy through its advertising for the past decade. It is the second company in as many weeks to outrage the sensitive Belgians. Perrier posters featuring bare breasted women with Perrier bottle tops over their nipples was taken down following complaints from women's groups.

Copyright August 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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